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Breeders widen genetic base

Breeders widen genetic base
Part of the ayrshire-friesian-cross herd graze at Glenkylie dairy farm and ayrshire stud at Isla Bank.

In response to the closing-in of genetics as a result of overuse of top bulls and top cows, Glenkylie dairy farm and ayrshire stud has for many years used Ayrshire New Zealand’s sire-proving scheme to widen its genetic base and help get as many young ayrshire bulls proven as possible.

“For a while now, not just ayrshire farmers but the whole dairy industry has been using the highest-breeding-worth bulls they can get,” says Glenkylie partner Audrey Stevenson.

“With everyone wanting to breed the top bulls and top cows, we’re getting a very small genetic base.”

To widen the genetic base, she and her husband, Rex, who work in partnership with their son, Craig, and daughter-in-law, Ruth, have used semen from overseas. “But we have to be very careful,” Audrey says.

“It’s all very well to use overseas semen, but a lot of overseas cows may not milk well in a New Zealand grass environment. “We’ve just been to Canada and seen a lot of cows in sheds.

They have really big, high production values, but when you put them out on the grass, they don’t milk effectively. And if they’ve got to walk a kilometre to a cowshed, they milk even less effectively.

So, widening genetics is not easy.” In the breeding of Glenkylie cows, the Stevensons aim to have high-production, efficient cows that make the business money.

They have chosen the Ayrshire New Zealand sire-proving scheme to help them achieve that aim.

The family has had one bull in the scheme, but because they have done so much sire proving, it remains something they would like to do more of.

They are also stretching their genetic base by mating their ayrshires with friesians, then putting that progeny back to an ayrshire.

“We have quite a few friesian-ayrshire crosses in the herd, and we end up with something special by taking the best from both breeds.”

She says dairy farmers also need to be aware they can have the best genetics in the world, but that won’t help unless cows are being grown and fed properly.

Rex and Audrey own a 200-hectare dairy farm at Isla Bank.; they milk 600 ayrshire and ayrshirecross cows.

Craig and Ruth manage the dairy farm, while Audrey and Rex run the 173ha beef-anddairy-replacement operation at Te Anau.

“We rear a lot of our bull calves on milk powder from three weeks of age at Te Anau, and take then through to two-and-a-half-year-olds,” says Audrey.

“All the dairy cows come up here for winter about June 1, then go home about two weeks before the start of calving.”

The Te Anau farm winters about 1200 stock, including the dairy cows and the dairy replacements; the Stevensons also take in a bit of winter grazing.

With a dairy-beef operation and ayrshire cows, they believe they are gaining something a lot of people miss out on.

“A lot of people just use friesians,” says Audrey. “But the ayrshire can fill out and finish quicker than a friesian.”

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